By CHRIS LARICK
No one knew quite what to expect when Geneva girls basketball coach Bob Herpy (better known as Eagles football coach) died suddenly in 1995, thrusting young Nancy Barbo into the spotlight as Geneva’s new girls basketball coach.
“They had different styles,” said Nara (DeJesus) Skipper, a 1999 Geneva graduate who will, along with her sister Rhea, be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation Hall of Fame on Apr. 2. “(Barbo) was still a younger coach learning her style. She evolved into one of the best coaches once she became head varsity coach.”
The Eagles weren’t the dominant team they were to become at that time, but the fact that she had Skipper and several other good players, like Stephanie Clarkson, Kristen Clunk, Lindsay Step and Marlena Fox the court didn’t hurt Barbo's development.
“She did more conditioning,” Skipper aid in comparing Barbo to Herpy. “I remember doing a lot more drills, especially conditioning types of drills. At times she wanted us to slow down, but we had a pretty quick team, quick from one end of the court to the other. We didn’t play many zones, used a lot of man-to-man with a lot of pressing. That’s where the conditioning came in.”
Skipper had learned the game of basketball early, playing with Rhea, her father Louis and his friends, like Ernie Pasqualone and Al Landphair, and neighborhood kids like Brian, Kevin and Eric Buckman on the family’s driveway.
“We’d also go on Sundays to the old Geneva High School,” Skipper said. “It became kind of a ritual to go on Sundays. The men would play on one court and the kids on another. There were some younger kids. We were the oldest girls.
“There weren’t a lot of girls. We played a lot of three-on-three tournaments in the summer."
The DeJesus girls also played bitty ball with the Geneva Recreation League.
Geneva is a small community and word gets around. Certainly the fact that there were two good girl players coming up reached Herpy’s ears.
“He was the first one to see the talent in me,” Skipper said of Herpy. “He had a very big impact on my career in general. He pulled me off the freshman team. He was so nurturing and such a good coach he made me feel comfortable, explained (my promotion) to the seniors do there wasn’t any animosity among my teammates.”
Fairly tall at about 5-10, Skipper played forward.
“We did well,” she said. “Not as well as they did after I left. (Barbo) was perfecting her coaching style. The first years were good but not compared with what she’s done with the team since. It takes time to build a program. You want to have the program to a point where the girls want to play because the team is winning. It took a while to build that foundation. The seniors set the tone for when the eighth graders come in.”
Both Madison and Jefferson had good girls basketball teams at the time. Those two teams became Geneva’s main rivals.
"Playing basketball with my little sister was some of the most fun I've had in my basketball career,” Nara said. "We had a connection on the court. Most times, I could tell what she was going to do before she did it. I knew the look she'd get right before she stole the ball or made an amazing assist. She brought a lot of energy to our team."
Skipper, who scored 1,006 points in high school and was a top-flight rebounder. “I remember trying to get a double-double each game,” she said.
By her sophomore year at Geneva, Skipper had decided she wanted to play college basketball.
“Then (college) coaches started showing up to watch me play,” she said. “It was cool having college coaches watch our games.”
Did that make her more nervous?
“Once you get in the game, you don’t pay much attention to that,” she said.
She and her parents, Louis and Jeannette, discussed what college offer she should take.
“I had a conversation with my parents whether to play Division III or Division II,” she said. “I visited Wooster and fell in love with the college. I knew I could come in and make an impact as a freshman. I wanted to play from the start. It’s a smaller school, Division III.”
Skipper was told she needed to put on weight and get stronger, so she started weightlifting. Though short for a college forward, she was a good leaper. Getting stronger made her an even bette rebounder.
The Fighting Scots weren’t very good when Skipper arrived on campus, but improved rapidly. By her senior year, she had high expectations.
Then it happened.
“Before the first game I went for the ball and tore my ACL,” Skipper said. “That was a big blow. I thought at first I tweaked it, but I found out I was finished for the season. It hurt. We were supposed to have a great year and I had to sit on the sideline and watch.”
By that time Skipper had reached one of her main goals, though — scoring 1,000 points.
“I was on track to set (school) records,” she said. “But I could at least be proud of that.”
During college, Skipper was NCAC Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, was a three-time All-NCAC selection and totaled 1,061 points and 794 rebounds, averaging a double-double each year.
At Wooster Skipper majored in English with a minor in childhood education. After graduation, she went on to John Carroll to get her master’s and started teaching first grade in Charlotte, N.C. for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System.
“I really liked young kids,” she said. “The English part was because I wanted to write children’s books.”
Meanwhile, her sister Rhea introduced Nara to her husband Jeff, who was working in Charlotte but coaching volleyball on the side with Rhea’s college coach.
“We went on a blind date, got married in 2008 and are very happily married,” she said.
When the Skippers started having children, Nara quit teaching to raise the family. Since then, she had started working with her father and brother in a custom packaging company called CompanyBox.
The Skippers have three children: Ayla, 7; Lincoln, 4; and Calvin, 2.